Anxiety is a growing problem
It seems to me that anxiety is becoming a more widespread problem among both children and adults. Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive worry, avoidance, and uncomfortable bodily sensations including pounding heart, muscle tension, dizziness, stomach pain and headaches, sweating, and rapid breathing. These symptoms can become disabling.
In this 21st century, I see far more kids and adults who are beset with chronic worry—about the future, about the world, and about themselves. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 18% of adults can experience these concerns during the course of a year. These worries can make life miserable.
When I was in my freshman year of college, I experienced “panic attacks” which are an acute state of anxiety, akin to the panicky feeling one might have in a dangerous situation. But in my case, there was no threat. It’s was a frightening experience. In the early 1970’s treatment for these conditions were not well researched. My doctor prescribed Valium, which was a widely prescribed tranquilizer in the 1970’s. It worked in the short run, but it didn’t help me learn how to cope with these scary episodes of acute anxiety.
There is strong genetic loading for anxiety disorders. These conditions run in families. In mine, my father suffered from considerable anxiety as did one of my brothers. One of my daughters also struggled with anxiety problems. Anxiety disorders have several components—cognitive, emotional, and behavioral.
My approach to handling anxiety was to focus on learning skills to calm my nervous system. I didn’t want to be dependent on a medication. I became interested in meditation, biofeedback, and mind/body approaches, like Tai Chi, Yoga, and Aikido. I studied these techniques. They are relatively easy to learn, but like mastering any skill, they take time to become proficient. I don’t suffer from panic attacks anymore. I have been practicing mind/body techniques for over 40 years.
The big challenge for coping with anxiety is the tendency to avoid those situations which trigger episodes of anxiety. For example, teens and adults with social anxiety might avoid social gatherings. Avoidance reduces anxiety in the short run but increases symptoms in the long run. The old adage about the importance of facing your fears is true—but is best done in small, incremental steps rather than rapid immersion.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach to helping kids and adults with anxiety. CBT has been thoroughly researched—it’s an effective, short-term therapy that teaches individuals how to cope with worry, physical symptoms, and emotional distress caused by anxiety.
How can we better handle our anxiety that gets out of hand?
There is help.
There are safe medications, effective therapy, and relaxation skills that are enormously helpful. There is no need to suffer needlessly. Talk with your Primary Care Provider about getting a referral to someone trained in CBT. Your provider can also discuss options for medication.
Don’t expect a quick fix.
Even medication can take time to work. The days of prescribing immediate relief tranquilizers are over and as it turns out, can have some significant long-term problems.
Learning how to calm your nervous system, change the way you think, and overcome avoidance takes time, commitment, and patience.
Anxiety symptoms are uncomfortable! But if you persevere by practicing relaxation skills on a regular basis, over time, you will appreciate your ability to have greater control over yourself and your life. It takes time to become skillful at learning to calm mind and body.